Reducing harm caused by alcohol

Minimum pricing

Minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol was implemented on 1 May 2018. 

Following a 5 year legal case, on 15 November 2017, the UK Supreme Court confirmed that the legislation which allows minimum unit pricing (MUP) to be introduced is lawful.

A consultation was held in January 2018 to gather views from people, businesses, public bodies and interested parties about the Scottish Government’s preferred price of 50 pence per unit of alcohol.  

5 facts about minimum unit pricing

1. Minimum pricing will save lives
In the first year alone, minimum pricing could prevent 60 alcohol-related deaths, 1,600 hospital admissions and 3,500 crimes.

2. Minimum pricing targets the heaviest drinkers
Minimum pricing targets harmful drinkers because they buy most of the cheapest strongest alcohol like white cider and own-brand spirits.

3. Minimum pricing only affects shops and supermarkets
Drinks in pubs and restaurants already cost more than 50p per unit so won't change under minimum pricing.

4. Minimum pricing is legal
Since minimum pricing was passed by the Scottish Parliament in May 2012, it has been tested in Europe and approved by Scottish courts twice.

5. Minimum pricing is widely supported
Minimum pricing is supported by the public, politicians, doctors, police, homelessness services, children's charities and parts of the licensed trade.


Minimum pricing benefits

What is minimum pricing?

A minimum price for alcohol sets the lowest price an alcoholic drink can be sold for. In Scotland, the minimum price per unit of alcohol has been set at 50p.

Which drinks will be affected?

Stronger drinks that contain more units of alcohol will have a higher minimum price than drinks that contain less alcohol. Drinks that will be affected include strong white cider, own brand vodka and gin, and super strength lager.

A bottle of wine containing 10 units of alcohol would have to be sold for at least £5, and a can of lager containing 2 units of alcohol would have to cost at least £1.

Unlike supermarkets and off-licences, most drinks sold in pubs, clubs and restaurants already cost more than 50p per unit so there will be no real difference under minimum pricing.

Minimum pricing is an effective policy because it targets the drinkers causing the most harm to themselves and society, whilst having almost no effect on moderate drinkers.

Why is minimum pricing needed?

Alcohol is much cheaper to buy now than it was in the past. In fact, it is 60% more affordable today compared with in 1980 - particularly in supermarkets and other off-sales where we now buy most of our alcohol. This increased affordability has led to higher consumption and higher levels of alcohol-related health and social problems - find out more

What are the benefits of minimum pricing?

Getting rid of the cheapest, strongest alcohol will mean improved health, safer communities and lives saved.

Modelling by the University of Sheffield estimated that in the first year alone, introducing a 50p minimum unit price in Scotland would mean:

  • 58 fewer deaths
  • 1,300 fewer hospital admissions
  • 3,500 fewer crimes

In Canada, where minimum pricing is in place, it has resulted in a reduction in the amount people drink, with fewer alcohol-related hospital admissions and fewer deaths.

Minimum pricing timeline

The Alcohol Minimum Pricing (Scotland) Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 24 May 2012 but was delayed by the legal challenge led by the Scotch Whisky Association.

The Court of Session refused the Scotch Whisky Association petition for judicial review in May 2013 and the matter was referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

In December 2015, the ECJ issued their judgement that the Scottish Government can use minimum pricing to reduce harm, as long as it can show that minimum pricing is more effective than taxation. 

The case continued at the Court of Session in Edinburgh during June and July 2016 and on 21 October 2016, the court ruled that minimum pricing is legal and can be implemented in Scotland. The Scotch Whisky Association announced their intention to appeal to the UK Supreme Court, further delaying the implementation of minimum pricing. This appeal was heard in July 2017, with the judgment issued on 15 November 2017.

The Scottish Government announced that minimum pricing would be implemented in Scotland on 1 May 2018.

The preferred price of 50 pence per unit was consulted on by the Scottish Government in December 2017 and January 2018.  After hearing evidence from the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport on 17 April 2018, the Health and Sport Committee recommended to the Scottish Parliament that the price-setting order (secondary legislation) be approved.  The order was unanimously approved by the Scottish Parliament on 25 April 2018.